After years of eliminating jobs in Southern California, aerospace giant Boeing Co. announced plans to increase its engineering workforce in Long Beach and Seal Beach by 1,000 positions.
It is a rare and welcome development for the Southland's beleaguered aerospace industry, which has been stung by layoffs and assembly line closures for decades.
"I couldn't be happier for the region," Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said. "We want to continue to carry on our aviation tradition here."
On Thursday, Boeing signaled its intentions to reinforce its presence in the region. The company said it will slowly add employees over the next two years as part of expansion of a new engineering design center for commercial aircraft that was established last year.
The addition of highly skilled engineering jobs is expected to provide an economic boost to the Southland and Long Beach, which was left reeling when Boeing announced massive layoffs resulting from next year's closure of its C-17 production line.
Employees at the center will provide engineering support and solve technical problems for airlines worldwide that fly Boeing jetliners. This new work in Long Beach would help rekindle the city's long legacy of commercial airplane development that all but dried up when the last Boeing 717 rolled off assembly lines there in 2006.
The Long Beach site was built by Douglas Aircraft Co. and still has a large "Fly DC Jets" sign in front. It thrived for decades, employing thousands and producing some of the world's most popular airliners, including the DC-3, DC-8 and MD-80.
Boeing currently builds the C-17 cargo jet for the Air Force on the site. On Monday, the company said it would close production by mid-2015 — three months earlier than originally planned. About 2,200 employees support the program in California.
Boeing began C-17 workforce reductions this year and plans to continue the cuts through next year's closure.
The incoming engineers will be spread among Boeing's engineering offices near Long Beach Airport and on the firm's 45-acre campus near Seal Beach Boulevard and Westminster Avenue in Seal Beach.
There are no new plans for aircraft production at the site, but the Chicago company said C-17 engineers will be eligible for the newly opened positions.
But many of the new jobs will be filled by transferring engineers from Boeing's facilities in the Puget Sound area around Seattle, which drew criticism from the Seattle union that represents more than 25,500 engineers, technical workers and other professionals in the aerospace industry.
Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said Boeing's decision has caused frustration among many of its Seattle-area engineers.
"This is an experienced workforce that's not going to move to Southern California," he said. "These people have kids who go to school here, spouses who work here, and mortgages on their homes here. I'm not hearing a lot of positives about this decision."
Scott Hamilton, an aviation industry consultant and managing director of Leeham Co. in Issaquah, Wash., said Boeing is doing whatever it can to move work away from unions in Washington.
Last year, Boeing said it would move about 675 jobs to the region — many of them from Puget Sound. Boeing's engineers in Long Beach and Seal Beach are not unionized.
"Boeing wants to move jobs to keep the talent pool down there," Hamilton said. "There's angst in Washington."
Southern California — the former undisputed center of the aerospace industry — has seen the number of aerospace-related jobs in Los Angeles County fall to 65,130, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.'s latest numbers on the industry. That is a more than 65% drop from the 189,035 workers employed in 1990.
With 18,640 workers, California still has the most Boeing employees of any state other than Washington, where it was founded. But the workforce is a far cry from 10 years ago, when it hovered around 35,000 workers and Boeing was the largest private employer in Southern California.
Boeing's decision to move more work is good for Los Angeles County, but it also bodes well for young engineers coming out of school, said Robert Kleinhenz, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp's chief economist.
"There continues to be opportunities for young engineers out there, so they don't have to leave the state after college," Kleinhenz said. "The commercial aerospace industry has a tremendous upside for decades to come."
Boeing is forecasting a market for 34,000 new airplanes estimated at $4.5 trillion over the next 20 years.
Although there are still no plans for the thousands of jobs it takes to build planes, Boeing's announcement is a welcome reprieve, said Al Austin, a former Boeing technician and a Long Beach City Councilman.
"For years, there's been a string of bad news when it comes to Boeing and Long Beach," Austin said. "This is definitely a shot in the arm."